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MEISHAN                                       19

About the time when his son was born, he began to take himself
seriously, regretting rather late, but with a sharp sense of remorse, the
wasted years of his youth. He must have been bitten with shame to
see that his own brother and his wife's brother, and his two sisters'
husbands, had all passed state examinations and were going out as
officials. Such a state of affairs might not affect a mediocre person, but
to one gifted with the mental powers that he showed in his Complete
Wor\s, the situation must have become unbearable. In his sacrificial
prayer to his wife on her death, he afterward indicated that she had
prodded him along, for the wife, Su Tungpo's mother, was a very well-
educated woman. The grandfather, however, had said and done nothing
about the son, who to all intents and purposes appeared to be nothing
better than a stubborn, erratic, loafing genius. When friends asked him
why his son did not study and why he had done nothing about it, he
replied placidly, "I am not worried", suggesting an enormous con-
fidence that his brilliant but erring son would himself realise the mis-
take in due time.

The people of Szechuen were, even in those days, a hardy, argu-
mentative, self-reliant, and largely self-governing race, retaining, as
people of remote districts or colonies often do, certain ancient customs
and habits and culture. Thanks particularly to the invention of printing
in this province a century earlier, a sudden impetus had been given to
t< learning, and in Su Tungpo's day a fairly high percentage of officials,
or successful scholars, came from this province. Its general level of
scholarship was higher then than that oŁ the provinces now named ^
Hopei and Shantung, for at the imperial examinations candidates from
the latter provinces often failed in poetry. Chengtu was the centre of
culture, famous for its fine letter paper, Szechuen brocade, and beauti-
ful monasteries. There were gifted courtesans and talented beauties,
and in the centuries immediately preceding Su Tungpo it had produced
at least two famous women poets. In their writings the scholars still
Held to the early Han tradition of simple austerity of style as against
the decadent, ostentatious style prevalent elsewhere at the time.

Then, as now, the people of that province were given to arguments
and eloquent disquisitions. Even in middle-class society, conversations
were often studded with learned instances and clever allusions, and had
an air of archaic refinement to those from the outside provinces. Of
this inborn eloquence and this determination not to be worsted in an
argument, Su Tungpo had a fair share. Not to mention his arguing
several times with the devil, his state papers were distinguished for
clarity and forcefulness of presentation. Both Su and his father were
attacked by their enemies as resembling the sophists of the Warring
Kingdoms, and were praised by their friends as having the style of